Meet Rohini Sharma. Bain consultant. Pharmaceutical executive. Concert pianist. An economist by training, Sharma left Bain to pursue a career in music. She earned a performance diploma – scoring at top of her class – and eventually performed with the Symphony Orchestra of India. A poet and a quant, Sharma represents the versatility that defines the MBA experience at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
As a first year, Sharma found her diverse experiences to be an advantage. That’s because the program’s foundation is integrative thinking. At its heart, integrative thinking is stepping outside past experiences and subjective preconceptions. It involves looking at problems from different vantage points and embracing a variety of possibilities instead of shoehorning a ready-made framework. In other words, integrative thinkers synthesize options by taking the best from different philosophies and disciplines to craft holistic, long-term solutions. For Rohini Sharma, her “non-traditional education and career choices” have taught her that every discipline presents an “incomplete” view of reality – one that is enriched by a wide range of perspectives.
“Integrative thinking, to me, is solution finding while solving for ambiguity through different and untested approaches,” Sharma tells P&Q. “At Rotman my classmates apply diversity of thought and experience, bringing different perspectives. Blending different ways of thinking to come up with innovative solutions is woven into every part of life at Rotman – from group projects, to class discussions.”
MORE VIEWPOINTS EQUAL BETTER RESULTS
For integrative thinking to work, MBAs must be open to re-evaluating their beliefs and resolving differences, ever focused on the big picture and needs of stakeholders. Patrick Mooney, a Toronto native, is a former college hockey player and cocktail mixologist who worked in private equity before joining Rotman’s MBA Class of 2024. He believes integrative thinking starts with balancing the concept that ideas may be both “contradictory” and reconcilable. The real magic, he believes, comes from bringing the right mindset to the problem.
“The process allows the group to confront the true complexities of a business problem by bringing in more perspectives,” Mooney asserts. “Integrative thinking is embedded into the Rotman experience. The school makes a concerted effort to recruit students from a diverse range of backgrounds, which serves to enrich the learning experience of all students. Regardless of the subject, classroom lectures are rife with discussion where students draw on their unique experiences to add nuance and layers to the educational material. Students are also placed in academic teams where integrative thinking is truly put into practice. The teams work together on several projects where they utilize each other’s strengths, challenge each other’s perspectives, and ultimately offer a solution that combines the team’s best ideas.”
It’s not an altogether new approach. In fact, many class members have been practicing integrative thinking before they arrived on campus. Exhibit A: Maddie Secco. Before business school, the Victoria native capped off an 11-year field hockey career by playing in her first World Cup for the Canadian National Team. At the same time, her national teams collected silver and bronze medals at the Pan-American Games. However, she absorbed integrative thinking during her three years as a professional field hockey player in Europe, where her teammates didn’t share her experiences.
“I competed with teammates from over 8 different countries. Given that setting, integrative thinking to me, was bringing diverse people and thoughts together. We all came from different backgrounds and offered unique tactical ideas, perspectives, or skills. The sum of all of our inputs was better than the individual!”
DIVERSE SET OF EXPERIENCES
That said, the individual parts making up the Class of 2024 certainly grab your attention. They boast a diverse set of experiences certain to deliver some unforgettable class discussions. Alexandra Foty, a McGill graduate, made her name in mining, even handling due diligence for a $3.5 billion dollar acquisition. Not to be outdone, Alp Cinar – whose Udemy classes have attracted over 2.000 students – has run five “major-scale industrial projects.” And he completed them under budget, despite disruptions from COVID and technical glitches. Across Africa, Adedayo Tope Akinyandenu led project teams that made medicines more accessible to society’s most vulnerable. He has since brought this passion for serving the greater good to Rotman.
“I am passionate about improving lives, and I believe in this philosophy that everyone, regardless of their economic status, should have access to quality healthcare,” he tells P&Q. “I am from a resource constraint environment where access to quality healthcare is a hurdle because the healthcare system is a payout of the pocket system. This program ensures that quality chronic disease medication is available to these patients at much more affordable prices.”
He’ll find an ally in Rohit Challa. He spent five years as a consultant for ZS in oncology, where he supported Fortune 500 pharmaceutical firms in everything from product development to global launches. Patrick Mooney raised over $500 million dollars for a private equity client. Still, when it comes to finance-related questions, you can bet the Class of 2024 will be making a bee line to Stacy Arciniega, who supervised private pensions before joining Rotman.
“Throughout all my time at the university, many teachers talked about the certifications that were available on the market. Suddenly, it came to my mind to take the CFA exams. I remember that I studied for three hours every single day for three years; and relied on my resilience and discipline to go the extra mile and push my limits. All this led me to pass all the levels on the first attempt and become the first female in my university class to be a CFA.”
A SENSE OF FAMILY
It hasn’t been an easy path for Arcinega. Being a life-long native of Peru, leaving for business school meant starting over in a new country. However, the homesickness has been softened by her classmates, whom she calls her “chosen family.”
“Since we are driven by similar aspirations and going through similar experiences, our differences (backgrounds, nationalities, cultures, and interests) make our bond even stronger. Every moment spent with them, as simple as going out for groceries, studying at the library, or going out for a beer is a valuable memory that just adds to the experience I am living here.”
Alp Cinar also experienced that sense of Rotman family from the start. Despite arriving in Toronto 10 hours before orientation started – a disorientation compounded by 2 hours of sleep and jetlag – Cinar quickly adapted to his new surroundings.
“My classmates were extremely supportive, caring, and welcoming the following morning such that I was one of the most energetic students at the orientation. That is my best memory because it marks the point that I started to develop strong and tight-knight relationships with my classmates.”
SUPPORT FROM ALUMNI AND CAREER SERVICES
The class found many ways to bond with each other – and the larger community. Rohit Challa, looking to learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, built his network by working two part-time jobs at two accelerators at the University of Toronto. In contrast, Patrick Mooney vowed to push out of his comfort zone and try new things so he could meet new people and broaden his skill set. As a result, he became an executive in Rotman’s Negotiations Club and a member of its intramural hockey team. Mooney also joined case competitions, a popular activity for class members like Ann Ocampo, a financier from the Philippines whose big moment at Rotman (so far) has been a live business case.
“We engaged with the subject company’s directors,” she tells P&Q. “My teammates and I leveraged our backgrounds and professional experiences to come up with a solid set of recommendations that got us 1st place! The case immersed us into developments and conversations that are relevant to the energy industry today. It’s great to think through live business problems instead of canned cases. Of course, it also stretched our creativity, business writing, and presentation skills!”
Maddie Secco built connections through Rotman’s LEADS program. Here, MBAs are paired with alumni mentors who provide one-on-one leadership coaching and professional advice (with Secco learning from an eCommerce VP for a well-known CPG company). That’s not the only place where MBAs receive organized and consistent career support adds Ann Ocampo.
“It [has been] the career coaches and career support at Rotman that took away a lot of uncertainty for me. My career coach helped me stay focused on my goals and made sure I had the resources I needed to navigate networking events, job search milestones, and connections with the Rotman alumni network.”
LIVING THEIR BEST LIFE IN TORONTO
For Patrick Mooney, the highlight of his orientation was a boat cruise around Toronto’s Harbourfront, which featured an “epic dance-off” with the Canadian National Tower and the Rogers Center serving as the backdrop. Indeed, Toronto ranks among Rotman’s biggest amenities. It is home to 8 of the 12 largest companies in Canada, including the Royal Bank of Canada, Scotia Bank, and Manulife. The region also represents 20% of Canada’s GDP, not to mention ranking among North America’s largest tech hubs. Long known as a financial center, Toronto boasts a sizable footprint for the A-Team –Apple, Amazon and Alphabet – not to mention, Meta, Microsoft, Pinterest, eBay, and Shopify. In fact, the region employs more tech works than Chicago, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC. In the process, it has emerged as a startup destination in life sciences, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and data analytics. And its bustling downtown is just a 2 kilometer walk from the Rotman campus.
Beyond its commercial appeal, Toronto is the world unto itself. You’ll find 160 languages spoken in the area. That means a variety of food – and Ann Ocampo is happy to dish out her favorite fusion spots: Kensington Market, St. Lawrence Market, and Ossington. Thus far, Adedayo Tope Akinyandenu loves how welcoming Toronto is, regardless of “ethnicities, culture, gender, and religion.” When you ask alumni about Toronto, one thing is clear: There is always something to do.
“I was born and raised in Toronto and have always been drawn to the sheer variety of experiences and activities that the city has to offer, explains Andrew Noskiewicz, a 2023 grad and Best & Brightest MBA. During the summer months, you can head to the beaches of the Toronto Islands, cycle around the city, play whatever summer sport you enjoy the most, or kick back and relax with a cold drink on one of its thousands of patios. When winter rolls around, you can go skating at any of the 60 public outdoor skating rinks around the city, or take a short drive outside the city to ski or hike in the snow. As a self-proclaimed foodie, Toronto also has restaurants to satisfy any craving. As one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with over 250 ethnicities represented, you can find amazing dishes from every corner of the globe.”
Next Page: Q&A with Rotman Leadership and Profiles of 12 Rotman MBAs